For homeless people in Ramsey County, hotel rooms offer refuge and hope amid pandemic

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From her hotel room in St. Paul overlooking Interstate 94, Colleen Stadt can see a small homeless tent camp near the freeway.

“I think about them constantly,” said Stadt, 60. “[I think] where I’m from on this trip, and I’m just grateful.

Stadt, who resided in a group shelter, has been staying in a room at the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge hotel since last summer. It is one of two hotels that Ramsey County has rented until June to add additional space for homeless residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The county oversees a space for 480 people, not counting shelters run by community partners. 125 people, all over 60, live at the Best Western.

Keith Lattimore, director of Ramsey County’s New Housing Stability Service, said the county had added the two hotel leases to its short-term housing options to meet social distancing requirements that limit shelters to the half of their capacity.

Appointed to his post at the end of last November, Lattimore said the department’s goal was to strengthen housing services and reduce race-based economic disparities in Ramsey County.

As a result of COVID-19, more and more people are experiencing financial hardship and housing instability, Lattimore said, adding that it costs twice as much to house everyone due to social distancing and security requirements. . Lattimore said the county is spending about $ 1 million per month to meet demand for housing.

Stadt, originally from southern Minnesota, found herself homeless about two years ago after a divorce. She was among the first residents of the shelter placed in more private accommodation due to her age and diabetes, which could make her more vulnerable to a severe case of COVID-19.

She said the hotel had been a much nicer experience than the Twin Cities Hideaway she came from.

“There was noise all the time, someone coming in and out of the bathroom all the time,” Stadt said.

At the hotel, she is resting better.

“It brings you up,” Stadt said. “It makes a lot of difference. “

Ramsey County officials say they have space for anyone who is homeless to stay indoors.

Colleen Stadt, 60, walks into her room Feb.4 at a hotel in St. Paul, where she moved in July as part of a Ramsey County program for homeless seniors.

Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

“Our partner shelters are putting everything they have on the table with extended hours,” Lattimore said. “There really is no place to say ‘no’. “

The county has relied in part on $ 8 million in the federal government’s CARES Act funds to accommodate the nearly 500 people community outreach workers are currently able to track as being homeless. Under an executive order from Governor Tim Walz, a city or county must offer anyone living in a tent a place to stay indoors before they are forced to leave a camp.

“If everyone chose to come in, we would probably be at our capacity or very easily exceed our capacity,” Lattimore said.

He fears the number of homeless will double when the moratoriums on evictions linked to the pandemic are finally lifted.

“Our goal is that we maybe get a second round of federal dollars and support, otherwise we have to start increasing those [programs] down in summer, ”he said.

Lattimore said he noticed that with more living space and individualized planning for homeless people, there has been less conflict, more support services and more hope in most living spaces. of transition.

“People feel like – ‘I’m always going somewhere,'” he said.

One of them is Roland Arnold, a 68 year old man staying at the Best Western. He said he received housing, health care and financial assistance resources during his stay at the hotel. He now feels more organized.

“If you have a plan, get yourself a pencil, some paper and write it down… I don’t care how smart you think you are,” he said. “That way you can monitor your grades. ”

A man is reflected in a mirror as he sits on a bed in a hotel room.

Roland Arnold, 68, sits in his hotel room in St. Paul earlier this month. Arnold moved into the hotel in March as part of a Ramsey County program for homeless seniors.

Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Arnold’s goal is to save enough money to eventually secure his own place.

Stadt, who also lives at the Best Western, said she would write a similar “if I could find a seat and relax” goal.

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